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ON A BUDGET

Laughlin a Good Bet for Cheap Getaway

May 23, 1999|ARTHUR FROMMER

As Las Vegas gradually grows more upscale and the spectacular price deals of the past get fewer and farther between, it's nice to know that for an affordable vacation filled with gaming, shows and good-quality yet low-cost meals and lodgings, people still have someplace to turn. It's called Laughlin, about 90 miles from Vegas at the southern tip of Nevada. Named for a developer who started with a little motel and club in the desert back in the 1960s, right across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Ariz., it's blossomed into a mini-Vegas of sorts, with 8,000 residents and 11 hotels along a 2 1/2-mile strip.

And how cheap are those hotels? Try $19 a night. Granted, that's Sundays through Thursdays in summer, but even on weekends and in other seasons, room prices stack up very well indeed at the low end: just $39 a night on weekends at the 1,400-room Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino, telephone (800) 227-3849, or $55 a night on weekends at the 300-room Golden Nugget-Laughlin, tel. (800) 950-7700.

The 1,000-room River Palms Resort-Casino, tel. (800) 835-7903, occasionally offers a two-night stay (on a coupon deal) for just $18. Several hotels offer $2 breakfasts, $4 lunches and $6 dinners, and local eateries can be amazing bargains too. The Flamingo Diner serves a spaghetti or lasagna dinner for $1.99. In Laughlin, even quality restaurants and steakhouses have entrees that start at just $9.

Even the most rock-bottom prices aren't enough, of course, if the place is a snooze. But apart from around-the-clock casino gambling, there's enough to keep even non-gamblers happy for at least a few days or a week. All the hotels have live entertainment, which, as a general rule, may not be quite as compelling as the splashiest Vegas extravaganzas, but they do offer nationally known headliners, including the likes of Rich Little and the Smothers Brothers.

Outdoorsy types will like the local golf at a choice of four courses, or swimming, fishing and boating on the Colorado River and Arizona's Lake Mohave. And there's sightseeing, from river cruises ($10 for 90 minutes) to an excursion to the nearby Old West towns of Searchlight and Oatman (where on weekends they stage gunfights). You can even take a two-hour flight to the Grand Canyon for $150 a person. Some of the hotels themselves are tourist attractions of a sort, such as the Ramada Express 1940s Museum of Memories or its old-fashioned train ride around the property. Or check out the vintage cars and slot machines at the Riverside. Finally, shoppers can wallow in nearly a quarter-million square feet of merchandise at the Horizon Outlet Center.

Many of Laughlin's 5 million annual visitors drive in by car or bus, while others take scheduled and charter flights into Laughlin/Bullhead City International Airport.

Promotional bargains are frequent. Folks who come in on Greyhound bus lines, for example, get a $15-a-night room rate at the Riverside Sundays through Thursdays, plus $7 cash back and a free buffet. In the fall, the Golden Nugget often offers a $19-a-night rate during the same days. Free publications found in various hotel lobbies offer discount coupons for meals and table games, such as the coupon from the Golden Nugget that knocks $1 off its $5.99 prime rib all-you-can-eat buffet.

The Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, tel. (800) 227-5245, and its visitors bureau, tel. (800) 452-8445, Internet http://www.visitlaughlin.com, will be more than happy to fill you in further on this unique destination.

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